The story behind one of the most unusual Porsche-powered racers of all time
As the United States rebounded from the Great Depression of the 1920s, many young men turned their attention to more light-hearted pursuits, perhaps as a way to overcome the gloomy, austere days they had recently endured. Like the dry lakes racing craze that swept Southern California beginning in the late 1920s, midget short track racing was a new and rapidly growing sport in Northern California, beginning in the early 1930s.
Resembling miniature versions of Indianapolis 500 racers of the day, the first midget racecars were homebuilt specials primarily utilising motorcycle engines. Run on short, one-fifthmile dirt oval race tracks, these race cars provided exciting, fast-paced action, and quickly attracted growing numbers of paying spectators.
The first organised midget racecar oval race in the United States was held in Sacramento, California on June 4, 1933. Sanctioned by the newly created Midget Racing Association (MRA), this first race attracted ten competitors, among them, a twenty-year old Oakland resident, Al Stein. A machinist by trade, Stein had been fascinated with anything mechanical from an earlier age and was always willing to try something new.
Setting aside his motorcycle, he took up midget racing and eventually applied his mechanical knowledge to building his own midget racers. As this sport begin to grow in popularity, so too did the number of newly-built oval tracks in Northern California, which appeared in Emeryville, Alameda, Vallejo, Alviso, Stockton, San Francisco, Fresno and Bakersfield.
The MRA soon gave way to a new organisation, the Short Track Automobile Racing (STAR) with Al Stein as one of its leading drivers. Stein was not only an excellent driver but an early innovator in car construction and his cars reflected his willingness to try new ideas, which included using a variety of two and three cylinder engines in search of the winning edge.
Winning was something he was doing regularly, so much in fact he was STAR champion three years in a row, 1935–37. After a break in 1938 due to injury, he returned to the track in 1939, finishing the season fourth in points. His good friend and fellow midget racer, Skeets Jones, won the title in 1938–39 and would play an important part in Steinʼs Indianapolis 500 plans twenty-five years later.
Stein continued to race for the next two years with moderate success but he finally gave in to his wife Patriciaʼs request that he retire from driving. Patricia had a unique perspective on the subject as she was initially a fan of midget racing then raced herself after meeting and marrying Stein during his 1936 championship season. After hanging up his helmet, and with the dark clouds of World War II gathering overhead, Stein became part of the war effort when he was recruited to apply his expert machining skills in the local shipyard, where he would work until the end of the war. When peace was declared Stein went back to work in the private sector, focusing on his tool and die business, and building midget race cars.
While oval track and sports car racing was growing by leaps and bounds after World War II, the two most important races in the world were the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indianapolis 500. For an oval track racer like Stein,
“STEIN HAD BEEN FASCINATED WITH ANYTHING MECHANICAL…”
Indianapolis was the Mecca of his racing world, so it was no surprise that he began to think about building his dream car, an Indianapolis 500 roadster.
Beginning in the late 1940s, and for the next fifteen years, Stein would continually sketch car designs, all the while saving as much money as possible to fund such a project. One thing was certain, his dream Indianapolis racer would be an innovative design, like the numerous midget racers he had built and raced in the past.
It was one of his former midget racing buddies, Jay Eitel, who inadvertently provided him with an unexpected opportunity. Prior to World War II, Eitel had raced midgets for two years then turned to building engines. After the war, Eitel stayed in touch with Stein and attended as many of the midget races as he could. In the mid-1950s, heʼd invented the ʻcherry picker ʼ, a device mounted on a truck chassis, as used by telephone companies to work on overhead lines.
Eitel spent a great deal of time travelling the USA promoting his product but he arranged his schedule so he could attend the Indianapolis 500 every year. One of his suppliers for the truck chassis was Allison Transmission which was based in Indianapolis. As a result, Eitel was a VIP guest of the company at Indy each year and, with pit pass in hand, became a regular fixture in Gasoline Alley for the month of May.
Eitel recalls a conversation with Stein, ʻOne day, I think it was in 1964, I was at home talking with Al about Indy and how much fun I was having there each year, strolling through Gasoline Alley, talking with the mechanics, drivers, etc. Al said he wanted to go to Indy and then asked me if he flew to Indianapolis, could I pick him up at the airport, find him a hotel and show him around Indy? Well, I agreed so we made plans for that year ʼs 500.ʼ
As agreed, Eitel made all the arrangements and, after arriving at the track, he acted as the tour guide, showing Stein everything there was to see. While sitting in the grandstands watching qualifying runs, the conversation turned to a rumour they had overheard regarding a change in
engine displacement for the following year ʼs race.
Stein remembers, ʻThey (USAC) were talking about reducing the engine size to 180 cubic inches to encourage more Europeans to enter the race, and I said there wonʼt be any suitable engines in the USA for a couple of years if they did this. The smart thing to do would be to get a couple of the four-cylinder Porsche Carrera engines, put one in the front, one in the back and youʼve got 180 cubic inches. We talked about it for a while but I thought we were just having fun – I never thought anything would come of it.ʼ
After the visit to Indy, and when Eitel returned home from his business trip a few weeks later, Stein told him he was going to see about buying a couple of Porsche engines and start building his Indy racecar. Eitel remembers his reaction, ʻYou could have knocked me over with a feather, I couldnʼt believe he was actually going to try and build a twin-engined car essentially from scratch!ʼ
Apart from the casual conversation at Indy between Eitel and Stein about engines, there was one other person who no doubt influenced Steinʼs Indianapolis dream car designs: his former friend, Lou Fageol. Fageol and Stein were childhood friends with similar interest. Fageolʼs father was one of the founders of Fageol Tractor and Truck Company, with a manufacturing plant in nearby Oakland, California.
Like Stein, Fageol grew up around mechanical devices and was soon showing an interest in fast vehicles but, unlike Stein, who turned to motorcycles and racecars, Fageol was more focused on speedboats. With a sizeable fortune earned from his company which built the Twin Coach transit buses (so named for having two engines), he graduated from racing small speedboats to a series of big, fast hydroplanes, culminating in his winning the Gold Cup race in 1954 aboard owner Stan Sayersʼ famous boat, Slo-mo-shun V.
However, Fageol was not solely enamoured with racing fast boats. In 1946 he turned his attention to auto racing and decided to build a car for the Indianapolis 500. Like his friend Stein, Fageol was an innovator and the car he built was truly a unique design. He took two 1.47-litre Offenhauser midget racing engines, added Roots-type superchargers and placed one at each end of his bulbous, bullet shaped car.
This offered excellent weight distribution, four-wheel drive and a potentially fast and good handling car. Although it weighed a hefty 2500lbs, driver Paul Russo qualified the car, named the Twin Coach Special, and was second fastest at 126.183mph. In the race, Russo ran with the leaders until the 16th lap when he lost control and crashed into a retaining wall.
Six years later, in 1952, Fageol decided to try sports car racing and built another unique car, a 356 Porsche with two 356 Porsche engines. This was followed one year later with a new car which looked like a three-nosed rocket ship due to the aircraft drop tanks used to fashion the body. Once again the car was powered by two 356 engines which he eventually supercharged.
Fageol raced this creation for the next three years all over the USA, achieving several top five finishes. Unfortunately, the car was destroyed in a crash at Pebble Beach in 1955, Fageol escaping with minor injuries but effectively ending his auto racing career.
Remembering his friend Lou Fageolʼs innovative and successful Indianapolis and sports car efforts, and the conversation he had with Eitel at Indy, Stein decided on a twin-engined car with four-wheel drive for improved handling and a low profile for less wind resistance. He felt these attributes would provide him with an advantage over the traditional Offy powered Indy Roadsters.
His first step was to secure engines for the car, so Stein sought out the best Porsche tuners in the area. It just so happened that down the road from his business was the
“STEIN DECIDED ON A TWIN-ENGINED CAR WITH FOURWHEEL DRIVE…”
shop run by well-known Porsche tuners and racers, Lukes & Shorman. Lukes & Shorman operated a Volkswagen and Porsche repair business but also built a reputation for tuning and preparing Porsche engines, and whose race cars won numerous, local SCCA races.
Tom Manning, an engine mechanic and SCCA racer with Lukes & Shorman recalls, ʻOne day, this fellow (Stein) walks in and asks about buying a couple of Porsche engines. Before long, several of us were engaged in conversation about how he intended to use them. We told him we could supply the engines and perform the tuning.ʼ With this aspect of his car taken care of, Stein went off to finalise the design.
There was one major change before the frame fabrication began and that was the introduction of the new Porsche 911, with its flat-six engine. Upon hearing of this, Stein contacted Fred Ernst, who was a dispatcher and shop foreman for Johnson Pacific, the Vw/porsche dealer in Oakland. Stein told Ernst about his Indy plans and the two of them spent a day taking measurements from the new engine/transmission of a recently imported 911. With Ernstʼs help, Stein was able to order three engines from Porsche in Germany.
With the 911 engines on the way, Stein returned to Lukes & Shoman to discuss having them modify and tune them. Manning recalls the reaction of Lukes & Shorman to this change of engines, ʻFrankly we thought it was not a good idea. The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Porsche engines were practically bullet-proof, produced enough horsepower and were much lighter than the new, unproven, 911 engine which we had never seen before. We recommend he stay with the four-cylinder engine and use Halibrand rearends. Unfortunately, he was set on using the more powerful 911 engine.ʼ
For the chassis, Stein sketched out a tube frame and turned to his friend and former employee, Joe Huffaker of BMC fame, to build it. When Huffaker had moved from his native Indiana to California after World War II he found a job as a welder at Steinʼs shop building midget racecars. Stein taught Huffaker a good deal about building cars which he would put to good use a few years later when he teamed up with British car importer, Kjell Qvale to form the BMC Competition Department.
Huffaker recalls ʻI built the frame and running gear for Al but it was sort of a work in progress. I was preparing our own MG Liquid Suspension Specials for Indy and had to squeeze in working on Alʼs project at the same time. I was a bit puzzled by the logic of his concept but there is no question, his design was certainly different.ʼ Based on Steinʼs design, Huffaker fabricated a beautifully-made, triangulated, chromemoly tube-frame to accommodate the twin-porsche engines and associated running gear. Stein took the frame back to his home garage in the San Francisco East Bay city of Orinda to begin assembling the car.
Along with sourcing all the necessary bits and pieces for the car ʼs assembly, Stein also put together a team of friends,
mostly from his midget racing days, to help work on the car. Skeets Jones, an electronics engineer and former Midget champion, would become the crew chief. Other crew members included Jay Eitel, Byron Feldhaker, Bert Trubody, Ken Crowell, and Heinz Hamster (from Lukes and Shorman) as Chief Mechanic.
Once the engines arrived they were taken to Lukes & Shorman for modification and tuning. The engines were disassembled, the cylinders over-bored, fitted with forged pistons and the compression increased to 11.5 to 1. Based on these modifications and with a fuel mix of alcohol and nitro, the engines were projected to develop approximately 210bhp each. This would give the car a significant power advantage over the lower horsepower Indy roadsters.
Besides the two-engine configuration the car had several other unique features including a hydraulically-operated throttle system; a linkage connecting both Porsche gearboxes to a single gear shift and the gearboxes turned upside down to allow for mounting the engines lower in the chassis.
During the engine tuning process, Lukes & Shorman found the Solex carburettors would not allow the modified engine to run up to expectations. Porscheʼs help was sought to secure Weber carburettors as replacements, but the request fell on deaf ears – in fact Porsche was not the least bit interested in the project and would offer no help at all. A solution was found by adopting dual throat, Weber 48 IDA carburettors to each six-cylinder engine. However, since the IDAS had more intake throats than were needed, one throat was blocked off on one carburettor on each side.
While his volunteer ʻcrewʼ spent numerous hours at night and on weekends working on the car, it was Stein who did the majority of the work, spending the money he had diligently saved for so many years to buy parts and supplies. 1966 arrived and with it the need to have the car in Indianapolis on the first of May, but the project was already running behind schedule, and Eitel and Manning could see potential problem areas with the car.
Eitel recommended using only one transmission and two clutches to save weight; Manning thought the half-shafts were too heavy at 22 pounds each (they were taken from a 4WD Lancia), the 911 engines were unproven, the common oil tank a bad idea, and there was no need for a front nose air opening. Manning recalls thinking, ʻI never knew what the car weighed but with all those components and large gas tanks, it sure looked heavy.ʼ
Unfortunately, their recommendations were ignored. Eitel would later learn as the car was being air freighted to Indianapolis that it weighted a bit over 2000lbs, giving away several hundred pounds to the front-engined Indy roadsters.
With the first of May fast approaching, the team hurriedly completed the car so they could test it before shipping it to Indianapolis. They arranged to rent Vaca Valley Raceway which was primarily used by the SCCA for sports car races, but the road course also contained a short oval track. Stein had contracted with veteran Indy 500 driver Bill Cheesbourg to drive the car and he was present at the Vaca Valley test in early April.
After several runs around the oval in the unpainted car, Cheesbourg reached 140mph and reported that the car handled well. However, Stein was not satisfied: he wanted more power so he arranged with Lukes & Shorman to have new camshafts made on a rush basis. Unfortunately, due to a manufacturing error by the cam supplier, the new castings
were rendered useless. With only a few days remaining before the car was to be shipped, Stein turned to Weber Engineering to weld and reprofile the stock cams. Time ran out and the car was shipped to Indy on May 8, 1966…without a chance to test the new camshafts.
To say the teamʼs stay at Indy trying to qualify the car was frustrating would be an understatement. Manning sums it up, ʻThe chassis seemed good, the hydraulic throttle worked well, Cheesbourg liked the way the car handled, the complicated shift linkage wasnʼt very good as the car would jump out of gear, and we had constant problems with the engines. I spent more than one night sleeping on the garage floor after working late into the night.ʼ During practice runs, the car was too slow, running three seconds a lap slower than the slowest qualifier.
Cheesbourg could not get the engines up to the hoped-for 9000rpm, reaching only 7500 during his best run. When the reworked stock cams arrived, they were installed in the engines for another practice run. Unfortunately, the lobes began to break up almost immediately and, with the common oil tank, all the fragments circulated to both engines, with predictable results. With only one spare engine and no more money, Al Steinʼs dream of making the field at the 500 came to an end. He had stopped paying for the crews expenses so everyone returned home before the race was even run.
His disappointment at Indy was not Steinʼs only problem for he hadnʼt paid Lukes & Shorman for their engine work – they, in turn, sued Stein, plus, the IRS was beginning to ask questions about his expenses. Stein decided to put the car in storage and lie low until the problems blew over and that seemed, to everyone connected with the project, the end of the story.
However, Stein still burned with the desire to prove his car could be competitive so he tinkered with it for the next five months to improve its performance. With the help of a few close friends, he took the car to Vaca Valley for testing. With Stein behind the wheel, the car performed well enough that it was entered in the last USAC race of the year at Phoenix. Amazingly, the car qualified with Cheesbourg driving but the drive only lasted a few laps and the Stein/valvoline Twin Special was not listed in the final results.
Where the car went after the Phoenix race remains a mystery to this day. Al Stein died in 1980 and with him, the carʼs fate. In 1988, Manning decided to try and locate the car, which led to a storage shed behind Steinʼs former home. In the shed was all that could be found of the car: a few body panels, a steering wheel, exhaust system and suspension components. What had happened to the chassis, engines, wheels, etc?
Was the car broken up or parted out to keep it from the IRS, or sold for some much needed cash? Regardless of the car ʼs fate, Al Stein must have gained some level of satisfaction from all his effort and expense, knowing he had built his dream car and witnessed it running ʻover the bricksʼ at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. CP
“DURING PRACTICE RUNS, THE CAR WAS TOO SLOW…”
Above: Group photo of the primary crew members taken at the Stein home. Left to right: Bert Trubody, Skeets Jones, Jay Eitel, Al Stein Jr, Al Stein, with Bill Cheesbourg in the car
Below left: Al Stein was an accomplished Midget racer in the 1930s
Below right: Ahead of the press preview, the crew take a break. Note the original Zenith carburettors still in place – these were later swapped for Weber IDAS
Below right: Within this garage setting, the project looks every bit like a homebuilt car. At this point, the twin-choke IDA Webers have been installed but not yet modified to block off one of the unneeded throats
Below left: Early in the project, rather than using the proven four-cylinder Carrera engines recommended by Lukes & Shorman, Stein opted for the new, more powerful 911 engines
Above: While Bert Trubody works on the front engine, the rest of the crew takes a break during a practice session at Indy. From left to right: Skeets Jones, Jay Eitel, Tom Manning (check shirt), with Ken Crowell talking to driver Bill Cheesbourg (far right)
Below left: The Valvoline Twin Special at Indy during practice early in May 1966. Note the empty grandstands. Cheesbourg was never able to get the car up to the speed necessary to qualify and eventually went looking for a better car to drive
Below right: It was when the car was air-freighted out to Indy that its true weight was revealed – at over 2000lbs it was significantly heavier than Offenhauser-engined rivals
Below left: All that remains of the car to this day is this piece of bodywork hanging on the wall of Steve Torp’s Classic Autobody in Berkeley, California
Above left: Stein (leaning on the car) and Bill Cheesbourg await the start of the USAC race at Phoenix. While Stein gained the satisfaction of seeing his car qualify and start the race, it failed to cover more than a few laps. This was the last time the car ever raced
Below right: After the disappointment of Indy, Stein kept the car out of sight, quietly working to improve its performance. Here he is seen testing at Vaca Valley Raceway ahead of the USAC race at Phoenix
Above right: Friends gather at a test session at Vaca Valley Raceway in 1966
Below: One of the groundcrew of the TWA freight flight checks out the Twin Valvoline Special, probably wondering what he was looking at. It could never be called a thing of beauty, but what an amazing story lies behind its inception